Saturday, October 20, 2012

Doping - My thoughts, let me show you them. TL;DR

Be warned - this is long, and rambly and I'm pretty sure it doesn't really go anywhere.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to post anything about the recent revelations of doping in cycling, or about Christian Hesch the runner that has admitted to doping. But, the more I keep reading the more fascinated I became with all of it. Of course, part of the reason I got interested in science was because I when I was young, I thought it would be interesting to work for an anti-doping lab. Other people watched the Olympics for the athletics, and I was more interested in how they catch cheats. This career has sadly not come to fruition, however.

Anyway, I think the other part of the fascination comes from the fact I feel so far removed from it, that it seems like a completely different world. I ended up talking to a few people who said that we'd probably be surprised at what happens even on the local level behind the scenes. I can't help but wonder what they know that I don't, but no one was divulging anything. As an outsider, it seems kind of crazy to have someone inject you with something, claiming it's "vitamins" and not know exactly what it is. Or just doping in general. But then, these people are competing at a level I can't ever hope to be at, and I can understand having to trust the people around you. The idea makes me uncomfortable, but I'm so far removed from that sort of competition level that I don't know the atmosphere or pressure they are under.

Prior to the USADA Armstrong report I more thought of doping as an individual thing - more with individual track athletes than with entire teams of people. I knew in a vague way that cycling has had issues with doping in the past, but I had thought that it had more or less stopped, and if it was going on, it would be individuals not entire teams. I am still very anti-doping, but this whole affair has just made me...kind of sad. Sad for the people that felt that they had to dope to stay on the team, to keep riding, that were intimidated and bullied into doing it. I realize that they still had a choice, but not being under that sort of pressure, I am trying to understand how one could get to that point. I suppose you could argue that individual athletes have their own sponsors to keep happy, and to keep competing, but at least then it feels like the choice of the individual, and you are only bringing yourself down in the end. It's not like the domestiques in cycling get much recognition - who the hell remembers all the riders that were on Lance Armstrong's team when he won? I don't know, I guess in the end my thoughts are if you want to fuck yourself up, go ahead, but pushing it on other people is just not cool.

I find the argument that if people took drugs it was to level the playing field aggravating, because 1) it doesn't make it right, and 2) there are naturally gifted athletes that wouldn't benefit as much (like if you naturally have high hematocrit, EPO won't help you as much as someone who had naturally low hematocrit), so it's not really leveling anything. It makes less talented athletes able to compete with more gifted athletes, and possibly outperform them, or in the case of the runner, able to compete enough that he can make a living at running. For people that know that they aren't going to win any big races, being able to essentially cherry-pick some races that you are fairly sure you can place in because they small field, and a decent purse, I can see how it could be tempting to take something.

Admittedly I am a bit of a sucker for those that seem genuinely remorseful and admit to fucking up. In that, it was interesting to read the affidavits of the cyclists that came forward. I'm curious of those that came out as dopers in the case, what they will do next - will they go the David Millar route, and be an anti-doping advocate, or will they keep their head low, and hope to never answer questions about it. Myself, I'm hoping it's the former rather than the latter, because I think that in this case, it's not just about owning your mistakes, but showing how you aren't going to repeat them. Especially with the reputation that cycling has. Part of my issue with some track athletes is that they are content to serve their suspension and come back and no one ever asks them anything about it, they don't make any substantial statements about it, their regrets, how they want things to be changed etc. It doesn't make me think you changed, and that's what I want to see. Sponsors come back and everything is just swept under the rug, it's like no one cares.

I think it is that thought - that people are just trying to close their ears and not talk about it, how they "just want to move forward", that makes me frustrated. I realize it is in the past, and that people want to move on from it, but I think that there is some value in, at least, acknowledging it, rather than every time it comes up saying "we want to move on, it's in the past the sport is different now". Tell me how it is different. Tell me how your team is going to prevent doping. Simply put, prove your statement(s) to the casual fans because otherwise, why should they come back to the sport? Cycling is so damaged at this point (though why track isn't despite the numerous doping convictions is beyond me), that you have to show us that you changed. Granted I live in North America, so admittedly cycling coverage is scant, but google is a wonderful thing, and most of what I'm seeing is people shoving their heads in the sand and stubbornly not talking about it and saying it's because they want to 'move on'. I don't know, one the one hand I can see how being asked about in constantly, particularly if you weren't a rider during the time it was going on, how that could be annoying and frustrating, but on the other, it's not a topic that is going to go away, so at some point someone is going to have to find a more effective way of dealing with the topic when it comes up.

I'm not sure that Sky has the right approach here, having their riders and staff sign something that says they have never doped. While I appreciate that they want to be seen as a 'clean' team, I'm not convinced that this is the way to do it. If someone doesn't sign, they are fired, if they lie, and sign, if they are found out, they're fired. They aren't following up beyond interviewing their staff and having them sign, so it feels more like lip service than anything. I don't know. Put in that position, if someone on the team had doped, they're screwed either way. There is no benefit to coming clean, and if they have lied this long, what will prevent them from doing it again? I don't know. I kind of see both sides, but at the same time, Michael Barry showed that you can have doped, not been caught and be signed to a team that says they won't have riders that have ever doped. So clearly that system isn't fool-proof, and signing an extra piece of paper won't change that. I totally get where Sky is coming from -  how do you trust someone that has been involved in doping, how do you know if they won't bring it to your team, and athletes, but I also think people can change, and can offer some sort of support, knowledge and insight into it that can be helpful. It's a difficult situation to be in, I guess. But I think that if someone comes clean voluntarily that it means something. If they change, and advocate against doping - I think that means something. These people have knowledge of how athletes can get to the point where they have to dope, how they could hide it, how they could avoid positive tests, and that knowledge could be valuable. I don't know if there is a 'right' way for teams to proceed. I do think being public with your team policy is helpful, since it does show that you are trying to change, at least.

Anyway, this got long and rambly. I find the topic interesting though, and sad. It's easy to look in as an outsider and judge people, but if nothing else, at least now I have a glimmer of understanding of how some people could get to that point, which is more than I could say before. It turns out even elite athletes are only human. I still hate it though, and I want to think that most athletes are clean, but I know that every time I hear of any elite athlete being accused of doping, I'm less surprised than the time before. I'm going to try to be optimistic though that things will be better in the future.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Canada!

Went for a 15km run yesterday that went pretty well. Beautiful day for a run! Not too hot or cool, and with the trees turning colour everything looked gorgeous. I was running with mom since she had a longer run on the schedule, so I hooked up with her partway through her run, and finished with her. 
Trees in the park
We saw a heron on the run in a tree so we stopped and gawked at that. I usually see them in the water, so it was unusual. Anyway, the run went well, which was nice.

That evening we had Thanksgiving dinner, so definitely glad I went for that run! Not that I wouldn't have pigged out anyway, but I could pretend to justify it all because I went for a run. I made squash and turnip for my mom, to make things easier on her and my dad. I probably ate more than I should have but mmm...thanksgiving food. Always delicious in my books. My sister wasn't down this year which was too bad, but we just saw her a couple weeks ago, so there is that. I believe she and her boyfriend went to his parents' place this year, and were greeted with snow when they touched down! How crazy is that?  I don't want to even think of snow yet, I want to keep this lovely fall weather around a few more weeks.

Before the race at sign-up
Then this morning I went and volunteered at a race. It was cold out! Had to break out one of the winter coats which seemed crazy. There was frost, but no snow, thank goodness. The race was put on by a local running group, and is a pretty basic race. A 2 km-ish race for the kids and a 6 km-ish race for the older teens and adults. They are cross-country races which is a bit different. And nice for the students because I'm not sure what is going on with their extra-curriculars right now, with the whole wage freeze thing that happened and the teachers being pissed at the government. Anyway, the race was nice! 

At the race I was able to catch up with a friend of mine that's living in Toronto, which is always nice. She was recently hit by a car when commuting to work which is significantly less nice. She was lucky, but she dislocated her shoulder and has to go back for an MRI scan on her knee this week. It was a hit and run which is crappy, and so not cool. But other than her shoulder and her leg being jacked she seems to be doing pretty well and is good spirits. And lucky she didn't break anything and didn't have any head injury, so pretty lucky all things considered.

It bit cold in the morning, especially in the shade, but not too bad. The weather behaved as much as you can expect in October. The race entry is pretty low, and it's nice activity for families. It's a pretty barebones race, but it's not like people really need another race shirt. They had overall, and age category awards, though for all the 6 km racers, and medals and ribbons for the kids. It was really nice. There was some food at the end, and I think everyone had a good time, despite the cool weather. Well, there was this one boy that didn't seem too happy to be there (I have a feeling he was dragged out by mom and dad), but I think he ended up having an okay time. Still, overall it was pretty fun, and it was nice to just helping out, and not having all the worries about having to race. I love to race, but the downtime is nice right now too. Plus I have an acceleration work-out tomorrow which will be fun. And probably less fun if I raced today. 

All in all a lovely way to spend a Thanksgiving morning!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ottawa Army Half Marathon

So, a couple of weeks ago I ran the Army Half marathon in Ottawa, which is a pretty awesome race - all the fundraising efforts go toward Soldier On, and the Military Families Fund. It was my goal race for the fall, and I put a lot into the training, so I was hoping for a good result (or, good for me anyway). The bonus for running in Ottawa is that my sister lives there, so I don't have to worry about where I'm going to stay, or food or anything. It was a family affair - my mom, dad, sister and I all ran the race. My sister said "she's just doing it for fun, not to race" but as per the norm the family competitive streak came out, and she totally raced it, I don't care what she says. She ended up starting ahead of me because I made a last minute port-a-potty stop  before the start.

First that start are all the injured soldiers doing the half marathon and I ended up passing a few of them on the route. It's pretty inspiring to see them out there doing their thing.

We picked up our race kits on Saturday, and I found out that my chip didn't work. This is the second year in a row where I've had problems with a fall half-marathon chip! The anklets and the small ones you tie in your shoes seem to be the most reliable. This was the kind that is embedded on the back of the bib. At least they were scanning them all beforehand, so I was able to get a replacement. I was told that on Saturday evening everything would be sync'd up and the new chip would have all my information on it. I found out on Sunday that this was not the case. and I was "Unknown". They were very prompt in fixing the issue - I e-mailed Sportstats on Sunday afternoon, and they had it fixed by Monday afternoon. I was very glad that they were checking the chips before the race! Still I can't believe that I had a chips fail twice!

We got to the start with plenty of time to spare - we took the bus down to the start, and found a place for us all to meet when we finished. We then went potty and then to the bag check, and to the start. They showed a couple of videos - I guess you could send in a video, and win a chance to enter the race for free. They showed the two winning ones, and one from the army which was kind of neat. I guess some of the soldiers overseas do a race too! I think it's usually shorter though. Anyway, John Stanton was there and talked a bit, mom and I went back to the port-a-pottys and came back and the area was packed! The corrals were pretty full, so I started a bit further back than I wanted to. Anyway, then they started the injured soldiers, and they have a videoscreen up so we could see them off. Very inspiring! They had a few other speakers, and the National anthem, and then we were off! The starter's pistol is a cannon, but they have moved it back a bit, so you can still hear it, and feel it, but it's not so close that you think you're under attack. I'm sure the residence downtown love hearing it go off in the morning! The weather was cool, which was great, but a bit windy which kind of sucked sometimes and made it hard to keep my pace up.

Unlike Vegas (the only other large race I've done) after the first couple of kilometres you were around people your pace. The 1:45 pace bunny seemed to be going for a positive split - I thought I'd be able to keep them in sight, but I lost them pretty quick. I think a lot of the bunnies got rid of their sticks with the times on them...since I saw them on the side of the road. There were some people that definitely placed themselves incorrectly in the corral, but it seemed to sort itself out fairly quickly. The pace bunnies for the run/walkers were actually really good - they would put of their arm for the walk break and get everyone over to one side of the road for their break. I said thank you when I passed them, and people seemed to look at me funny, but it's so nice when you aren't running into a wall of walkers!  Dad pointed out that for a 1:55 run/walk (I think that was the finish time) you kind of have to figure that they have to run around 5min/km, and then walk for a minute. That seems a bit crazy to me! I think it would be way easier to just run slower and not walk. Anyway the water stops were ok - I think if each stop had a couple more volunteers it would be perfect - there were a couple of times that it seemed a bit dicey if people were going to get water/gatorade or not. There were a bunch of people stopped at the second or third port-a-potty set...I think they had them every water stop or so, and one enterprising gentleman decided just stand behind the porty-a-potty and go. It looked like it provided enough cover...

The course had a lot of curves in it, and a lot of small hills. According to my Garmin I ran about 190m longer than the course! Yikes! It was hard at the beginning to hit the tangents though...too crowded! None of the hills too steep but there were enough that it made things hard for me. I don't remember much of the race course...I know that somewhere around the civilization museum there was a waterstop and about 5 or 6 army guys cheering there...they were quite loud! I high-fived them all and got my gatorade...and I high-fived the cadets...don't remember where they were on the course. When we got into Quebec it was very deserted...kind of thought zombies were going to pop out somewhere! I always find it kind of funny when races describe the sights on a course, or how scenic it is...I tend to not notice anything unless it's on the road or at a waterstop. There were a few areas where there weren't many people out cheering, but there were lots where there were many people along the course! I found that, like in many races, if people are there for one person, they tend not to be really loud, but if there is one person that's nuts and cheering for everyone, everyone joins in.

I do wish there was maybe one more waterstop, and that they had the kilometre marks on their race map, so you can figure out where the stops are kilometre wise. I had my first gel around 6 kilometres maybe because I wasn't sure when the next waterstop was coming up, and the second one I had later than I wanted to...maybe around 15 km? I'm pretty sure it was more than 5 km from the end, but not much. According to the website there were 6 waterstops, so I'm guessing they were about 3 km apart give or take. Still, this is only the 5th year of the race, and it is really, well run. I can't complain about much. The first gel at 6 km went down ok, but the second was a bit problematic. I think I couldn't digest it because it sort of just sat there, and I didn't feel well, and I was wondering if I was going to have to stop and be sick. It was a weird experience for me because I never had it happen before.

I think somewhere around 16 or 17km I finally caught, and passed my sister. I wasn't sure where she was in the race, but when I passed my mom going the other way, she said my sister was not far ahead of me. So that gave me a goal. When I got fairly close behind her I said "Go Rache" and she sped up so it took longer than I had thought it would, when I caught up to her (finally) I was thinking that maybe we would finish together, and said "Let's git'er done" and she swore at me (pretty sure she told me to fuck off), so I continued on without her. Of course, after I did that, I was her rabbit and thought she was going to catch me again at the end. The last 4km were really, really hard. I think the two things that kept me going were the facts that a) my sister was behind me and I thought she'd catch me (us, competitive? I  don't know what you are talking about), and b) I really didn't want to walk in the last 4km. I can do anything for 4km! I saw a surprising number of people having to stop in the last 4 kilometres...some with 1 km to go! Seems crazy. From the pictures it looks like I kind of feel apart in the last few kilometres. Basically all I was concentrating on was just getting my feet up and down and moving forward.

So I finished, gun time 1:48:44, and got my medal from an army guy and stumbled along a bit, then turned to wait for my sister. She finished about a minute behind me, and then got my box of food. It had an energy bar, hummus and Melba toast, and some chocolate. It was supposed to have granola/trail mix, but it was missing from my box. They didn't have the normal fare out for food, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I do wish that we got a bottle of water and a banana with our box, but I was pretty pleased with the box of food overall. My lungs hurt when I finished, but that went away after a few minutes.

The next day, I was pretty sore. I figured I was going to be, since on Sunday my body wasn't best pleased when I wanted to move around, but Monday was worse. I knew it was going to be bad when I stretched in bed, and everything hurt. Chip time I finished at 1:46:58, about a minute faster than my previous PB of 1:48:05 (chip time, Forest City half marathon 2012). A couple of seconds faster per kilometre doesn't sound like that much, but it makes a huge difference in how I feel at the end! I didn't have to go down the stairs backwards, but I was going down sideways. I thought about scooching down on my bum, but figured that may be worse since I'd need to use my legs to make sure I just didn't slide down all the stairs. After the race, I wasn't too happy that there were so many stairs in my sister's place!

I'm still pretty pleased with the race. I had a goal of, if it was a perfect day, and a fairly flat course (which is what I was told it would be before we found out it had been changed from previous years)  that I would be going for 1:45, which in retrospect was kind of crazy since that's about 3 minutes faster than I had run it before. Still, it looks to be within my grasp, and I wasn't off this time by that much all things considered. As long as I stay healthy, I think it will happen soon. Second was to be faster than my last half marathon, which I was, and third was to be under 1:50. I mean, I always have the goal to finish, and to finish upright and running, but I'm not sure if that counts. I think it would be pretty hard to get me off a course, unless I was injured. 
My sister and me after the race. We're smiling because we're done.

My race season is pretty much over. I have a 10km race at the end of the month, which I'm looking forward to. I'm not feeling burnt out this year (last year, I felt a bit burnt out at the end of last season so I don't think I had a great race), so I'm hoping to have a decent race. Apparently, I haven't broken 50 minutes for a 10 km race so I really want to do that, at least. There is no reason why I can't do it. If the weather is crap than it may be harder to do, but as far as I can tell it should be well within my ability.

Until next time,